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Bad history and Anzac Day

By William Hill - posted Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Yesterday’s commemoration of ANZAC has provoked the usual and unsurprising streams of alternative opinion on how we should remember the Gallipoli Campaign. One such piece to be found on the Socialist Alternative online journal Red Flag rather effectively summed up the feelings many people have about this anniversary.

It makes an important factual point that the number of Turkish fallen far exceeded that of the ANZACs. Something we should absolutely be mindful of. It then goes on to cast the ANZAC Commemoration as evidence of ‘colonial superiority’ and invites us to ponder how we should feel if Japanese war enthusiasts  turned up on Australian shores commemorating an invasion of Australia that never happened.

Japan may never have set foot on Australian soil but it did occupy China, Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Burma, Thailand and Papua New Guinea. If Japanese citizens in their thousands started showing up in these countries celebrating the exploits of their soldiers they would no doubt be met with a swift very unfriendly response but the local population. And that’s assuming they would have been allowed entry in the first place.


In the case of Australians visiting Turkey they have yet to be discouraged from conducting their annual commemoration. What’s more the Turkish government each year effectively roles out the welcome mat for them. Some ultranationalist forces might object to the ANZAC events and for halfway understandable reasons. Though I wouldn’t have thought a publication called Red Flag was keen to endorse ultranationalists.

I would venture that one of the reasons Turkish citizens are not hostile to the presence of Australians in Turkey every year on the 25th of April is that we are not hostile to the memory of their fallen soldiers. The ANZAC commemorations centre on the personal narrative of the Australian and New Zealand soldiers and their experiences during the campaign.

There is no expression as revulsion for Turkish soldiers or an idea that Turks were an evil opponent that Australia had to fight to stop the spread of their evil. Such a view would be entirely false since the Turkish Army of WW1 was not the equivalent of the aggressive German Empire invading other European nations. And nowhere near responsible for the atrocities committed by the Nazis and the Japanese Empire in World War Two. Australians like the rest of Asia retain a strong antipathy towards Japan and its war legacy but no such antipathy towards Turkey. In fact the leader of the Turkish forces at Anzac Cove, the great Republican leader, Mustapha Kemal Atatürk is a fairly popular figure in Australia. That is after all why a memorial to Atatürk was erected directly across from the Australian War Memorial.

The Vietnam War does not linger in the Australian memory in a negative way either. Most Australians are indifferent to Australia’s involvement and have a generally positive disposition towards Vietnam, its culture and its people.

One of the key saving graces of ANZAC Day is that it focuses on the experiences and plights of common soldiers and it is extremely conservative about ‘honouring’ questionable commanders. John Monash who demonstrated exceptional skill at breaking the deadlock of trench warfare is an exception. WW1 generals such as Herbert Kitchener, Douglas Haig and Ian Hamilton are not well remembered and Churchill still bears Gallipoli as a stain on his record.         

The mentality towards the Pacific War inside Japan contrasts starkly with Australia and its memory of Gallipoli. In Japan not only is there a substantial rejection of the historical record when it comes to the Nanjing Massacre or the forced sexual enslavement of hundreds of thousands of Asian women. There are prominent voices who say that Japan’s imperial project was beneficial to Asia. There is no such equivalent opinion in Australia when it comes to Gallipoli.


The Gallipoli Campaign was a brutal series of battles but it was not a prolonged ‘colonial’ occupation under which Turkish civilians were subjected to mass murder or enslavement. There is an excessive desire to construct a narrative that is positive and respects the memories of the fallen and there is much debate to be had on this. A good reading of history is probably a good place for everyone to start.

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About the Author

William Hill is a graduate from the Australian National University with a Bachelor of International Security Studies. He has a strong interest in political science and issues of foriegn policy.

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